Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Cross & crescent

Last week, Philip Johnson posted a little essay on political correctness in the face of global jihad over at http://phillipjohnson.blogspot.com/

His essay was blunt, but balanced. As a consequence, he suffered the fate that a reasonable man must always suffer when he dares to state the obvious: he was instantly accused of saying things he didn’t say and not saying things he did say.

No matter how carefully you qualify your position, no matter how obvious the point you’re trying to make, there are always folks who will disregard your caveats and deny the obvious.

In this particular instance, one reason is that everyone has an opinion on the war effort, and those who disapprove of the war effort are just spoiling for a pretext to unload on those of us who do support the war effort.

I’ve been waiting until the comments ran their course before I weigh in. What is disturbing, but predictable, about some of the comments is the level of moral confusion in the face of a morally unambiguous enemy. And what is more disturbing, but predicable, is that this moral confusion is coming from some conservative Christians. Let’s sample their comments:

Kim said...

I may be revealing just how terribly obtuse I am, but does this war not having a little something to do with oil?

Is this the no-blood-for-oil slogan? To judge by the price of gas when I tank up these days, I’d just say that if this war were about oil, then we’re not getting our money’s worth!

If this war were about oil, why didn’t we seize the oil fields, secure the oil fields, and start pumping free crude oil directly into supertankers bound for the USA?

<< David Kear said...

To comment that "Every international terrorist is Muslim." is at the very least a disregard for most of history. What branch of Islam is the IRA part of? I agree with the war on terror. But, a war on Islam could not be considered a "Just War".

I can agree that we are at war with Islamic jihadism. But, I can not agree that Islamic jihadism is not divisible from the rest of Islam. That is no more true than saying that there is no distinction between those who are Christian and those who call themselves Christian or act in the name of Christianity. I certainly would not want to be held "guilt by association" to many so called Christian organizations whether they are terrorists or not. An example would be Fred Phelps and his group who protest at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq. My Christianity is not the Christianity that they claim to have. As far as the comment that I was actually in disagreement with that "Every international terrorist is Muslim". It is simply not true. There are at least 13 different non-Islamic international terror groups listed by the U.S. government as Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations. It is true that we are not at war with them. But, maybe we should be.

This jumbles together a whole lot of stuff:

i) The IRA is an example of domestic terrorism based on issues of nationalism and colonialism, not international terrorism. The IRA isn’t blowing up soft targets around the world.

ii)”Foreign” and “international” are not synonymous. In any case, the issue is not some technical definition of what constitutes an international terrorist organization, but the actual threat level which it poses to the free world.

iii) Why could a war on Islam not be considered a just war? Islam is the aggressor. Our response would be a defensive war or counteroffensive.

iv) Just-war theory is a product of medieval moral theology. Why does David Kear embrace this part of medieval moral theology, but not the part about the Crusades?

v) Is it merely guilt-by-association that leads us to link jihadism with Islam? This is not a Christian characterization of Islam. Rather, that’s part of Islam’s self-definition.

It goes back to the Koran, in what it has to say about the infidel (Jews and Christians). It goes back to the paradigm-case of Muhammad’s massacre of the Jews of Medina. It goes back to the Hadith, and to centuries of theological tradition. It goes back to centuries of theological tradition put into actual practice in the violent conquest of the Christian Arabia and Africa and Eastern Europe.

Unfortunately, there are people like Kear who never learn from history, never learn from experience, never listen to what the enemy has to say for itself.

It is not a case of guilt-by-association to judge behavior by its stated belief-system. Would Kear make these same generous allowances for the Nazis?

Andrew said...

Hi Phil
You have a great blog going here, and I now visit it as regularly as I do your 'Bookmarks' and 'Hall of Church History'. Also can I say that theologically I am in line with most (if not all) of what you have to share.
I do feel, however, that care needs to be taken in any depiction of terrorism. I am not postmodern, and I despise the PC environment that is seeking to clap a hand over our mouths in these days. But terrorism and the causes of terrorism are never simple. I am from Northern Ireland, and have watched for the best part of my life men, women and children being slaughtered by terrorists. Throughout the years of the 'Troubles' religion was often blamed. People characterised the conflict as being between Protestants and Catholics, when in actual fact neither side bore any resemblance to those two religious perspectives. Then other people said it was a political war, being fought with fervour over the partition of Ireland. In actual fact, though, it is now clear that there was communication and at times collusion between so called 'warring factions'. What was the base cause of such conflict then? A whole range of social factors: the lure of extremism to young hormonally charged males, the traditions of family groups, the enormous pressure of peer groups, the ghettoisation of our society, the carelessness of political and religious leaders in their calls to arms, and the list could go on. At base though, I think the cause was fallenness.

Now the problem I have with your last post is that:

1. You are intellectually sophisticated enough to hold a balanced and nuanced view of Islam - in its extreme and its peaceful forms. Many of your readers may not. For George Bush or Tony Blair to declare a 'War on Islamic Jihadism' could have disastrous consequences for Muslim communities across the world, where dimwitted thugs would relish the opportunity to rough up some Muslims in the name of justice or ethics. An example of this was the rather ironic incident that happened here in Northern Ireland four years ago. A few days after September 11th someone threw a brick through the window of the local mosque here in Belfast! Go figure!!!

i) Folks like Andrew and Jeri (see below) are too smart for their own good. Andrew wants to see a more nuanced analysis.

But this is not about being fair to the enemy. This is about defeating the enemy before the enemy defeats us.

The first order of business in dealing with a mortal enemy is to defeat the enemy, not to develop a sociological theory about the enemy.

You could fill whole libraries with psychological theories on why Hitler turned out the way he did. You could fill whole libraries with sociological theories on why Germany followed him over the cliff.

That might have some bearing on how to prevent the next war. It has no bearing on how to win the current war.

ii) As far as comparing the IRA with militant Islam, the question is, indeed, whether religious factors or the socioeconomic factors are uppermost. The fact that socioeconomic factors may be uppermost when it comes to the Irish Question does not imply that socioeconomic factors are uppermost when it comes to the jihadist death-cult.

An honest comparison allows for the possibility of contrast, where there’s more discontinuity that continuity.

iii) It’s a very revealing view into Andrew’s moral and practical priorities that his chief fear is not suicide bombers, but a brick through a window.

Why should our primary concern be the protection of Muslim communities rather than Jews and Christians and the free world?

iv) BTW, it’s striking that a sensitive male such as Andrew has a taste for violent movies like the Godfather and The Thin Red Line.

2. You can't separate Al Queda's activity from groups such as the IRA. Both consist of killers without conscience, who are willing to wage war on anyone who does not agree with their warped and evil logic. This distinction, I feel, lies at the heart of America's problem in waging war on terror anywhere in the world. How many Armalites were funded by American institutions throughout our period of 'Troubles'. The AK47 was known as the widow-maker, and America helped many IRA volunteers along the way to owning there very own weapon!
For America to look at the world through the awful palls of smoke that descended on September 11th 2001 and decide to 'clean up the globe', strikes me as hypocritical, unethical, and a kick in the teeth to those of us who endured terror for thirty years. To say that the IRA has nothing to do with this issue, is to subscribe to the same mentality as the political leaders of the IRA who, in an act of supreme duplicity, condemned the London bombings, and pretended that the IRA only killed legitimate targets. I could give you a long list of victims who fall very far outside of that category.

i) Phil wasn’t discussing moral equivalence. Phil was discussing the threat level. Militant Islam is a threat to world peace. The Provisional IRA is not.

ii) I assume that the Americans who supplied or supported the IRA are a subset of Irish-American Catholics. What makes Andrew suppose that those of us who are not Irish-American Catholics are culpable for the misconduct of some Irish-American Catholics?

Notice how quickly Andrew can ditch all his fine-spun moral nuance when it comes to America-bashing. He reserves his nuance for the enemy, not the brave soldier who stands between us and the enemy.

iii) Suppose, for the sake of argument, that America is hypocritical and unethical. Speaking for myself, if I had a choice between a hypocrite who shielded me from my mortal enemies, and a saintly social worker who would let them kill me to vent their socioeconomic grievances, the hypocrite would have my vote every time.

Andrew and Philip represent two fundamentally different strategies--indeed, two fundamentally different worldviews.

Phil Johnson sees this, first and foremost, as a practical issue: how do we deal with the danger of militant Islam?

But Andrew sees this, first and foremost, as a question of fair play and the Marquis of Queensberry rules.

If Phil Johnson were hired to build a bridge, his first concern would be, is the bridge safe to drive across? Is it structurally sound?

If Andrew were hired to build a bridge, his first concern would be, is the bidding process equitable? Were all the racial quotas filled?

Andrew is more bothered by a metaphorical kick in the teeth than a literal beheading or suicide-bombing.


Broken Messenger said...


How about loving our enemies? Where does that work in with your view of the terrorists here? Not trying to draw an inference of any kind, I certianly don't know your heart or assume to know, but I am very curious.

Now let me start by asking some uncomfortable questions in response to Phil’s remarks. In light of Islamists who have declared war upon the West, and that we here in the West would generally concede as being our enemy in return, can we honestly say that if we were called by God to bring the message of the Gospel to these men and women that we would readily go? Would we be like a relenting, submissive, post-wale version of Jonah, and walk willingly into the very heart of our enemies camp to preach a message that God has asked us to carry?

How does the War on Terror find support under the message of the Gospel particularly in light of how wer are supposed to view and treat our enemies?

Personally, I think Phil’s extrapolation of Romans 13:4, in his hope to lend weight to his argument, does a bit of violence to the text of this verse and of the overall passage it is extracted from. Yes to be sure, we are to submissive to authority, but did Jesus or His followers pursue human forms of warfare or spiritual? Did they humble themselves before their enemies or wipe them out? Can the Great Commission be obeyed while staring down the sights of an assault rifle?


i) All other things being equal, we should love our enemies. But that is not our only moral priority, or even our highest priority. We are also supposed to love our neighbor. To love our brothers in Christ. To love our parents and siblings, children and spouse.

In a fallen world, you can’t be equally nice to everyone all the time. In a fallen world, where one individual will prey upon another individual, where one group will attack another group, you have to take sides. You have to choose between the rapist and the rape-victim, the Nazi and the Jew.

ii) If we lay down our arms and let the Muslims murder all the Christians, then there won’t be any Christians left to evangelize the Muslims, now will there?

iii) As a practical matter, Islamic theocracies do not allow Christian missionaries to evangelize Muslims. So this is an empty hypothetical.

iv) I agree that Rom 13 is too limited to make the case for war. Christians turn to Rom 13 because they don’t know what to do with the OT. But in Deut 20, you have inspired laws of warfare, and those laws distinguish between conventional war and holy war.

Even if you think that holy war is part of the ceremonial law, conventional war is not. That’s part of the moral law. Human nature hasn’t changed. The threat hasn’t changed. Israel had enemies, we have enemies; Israel had the right of self-defense, we have the right of self-defense.

Jeri said...

What you fail to make clear in this post is that most Moslems, even if they feel an ethical sympathy for bin Laden (or at least a similar distaste for America) are not terrorists. This world holds a huge population of Moslems. The jihadists are a small group.

And what you seem to have missed, Phil, is that we are not at war with jihadists, except on paper. We are at war in Iraq, a country that the jihadists also hated. In Iraq, we are fighting Moslems, but they are motivated by political issues, the largest of which is to either claim or retain the edge of power in Iraq. It's not a Taliban-type culture at all, and even though a few people here and there may mouth a few words about Allah, the real issues is which minority will emerge on top in their government. We *ought* to be fighting jihad in the moountains of Afghanistan, but in the name of "The War on Terror," Bush has launched us into this campaign in Iraq, a nation that had nothign to do with 9/11.

Just as you wouldn't like all Christendom to be linked, politically, socially, or even theolgoically, with people who blow up abortion clinics or members of the IRA, please exercise care in saying "not all Moslems are terrorists." The fact is, most Moselms are not terrorists.

As for the mis-use of the word terrorist, George Bush needs to blur the distinction and eliminate the religion factor or else people would notice that the insurgents in Iraq are motivated by politics and the guerillas of Al Qaeda are motivated by religious fanaticism and the Palestinian Liberation sub-groups are motivated by revenge for having their lands seized. He can only maintain this "War on terror" by making sure that Americans view all of them as mindless, raving terrorists. If we accept as a premise that they cannot be reasoned with or that some of them may actually have legitimate grievances, then he gets to wage war where ever he pleases, as long as he can point to anything he can call "terrorism," whether it is religious, political, or social in nature.

This war is indeed about religion. It is also about the exploitation of religion, and it is also about religious prejudices. I grant you that the religion of Islam is a fallen religion, as are all fallen religions. The solution for fallen religions is conversion to Christ, not war. And the worst fallen religion of all is a de-Christed Christianity that believes war leads to a rapture, the president is God's prophet, and there can exist two Peoples of God, one political and one spiritual and both entitled to take whatever they think belongs to them. Such a false religion as this never accepts responsibility for its own history of abusing or defrauding others and neatly labels its enemies as "terrorists," or "witches," or "unbelievers" or whatever propagandistic term comes readily to mind.

Yes reformer, I have a very sinister agenda: I believe that Americans have a right to know exactly why they are going to war, exactly who they are fighting, and exactly what the objective of the war is. Any confusion on those points is the result of gross incompetence or gross deception. Confusion on all three points is blatant incompetence or deception.

Yes, it is non-jihadists who are blowing themselves up to get the US out of Iraq. They are not fighting for Islamic supremacy over Christianity but for Iraqi sovereignty over Iraq.

Just like the kamikaze pilots in Japan used culturally embedded practices derived from their religion to destroy Americans in WWII, the suicide bombers in Iraq are using culturally embedded practices derived from their religion to destroy Americans in Iraq. But if we were not there, they would not be interested. They are not AL Qaeda; They do not have a cultural background to destroy all other faiths but Islam and every version of Islam except their own.

They are insurgents who want us off their territory, and they are as much subject to ethnic prejudices as religious ones in trying to secure power for their own racial-cultural subset within the multi-ethnic Iraqi society. But their ultimate aims, whatever their methods, are political---getting us out of their country.

Unlike the fanatical Osama bin Laden and his crowd who went on the offensive to harm us and discredit us, the insurgents in Iraq are not the Taliban, and they are responding to our presence in their country and the upset of their government.

The two largest groups of insurgents in Iraq are the Ba'athist party and the Nationalist party. The Ba'athists are political: they want to be reinstated as the ruling party in Iraq. The Ba'athist party is the most effective party of the resistance (or they were, anyway). The Ba'athists are made up of former military commanders, security operatives, and members of the previous regime's power infrastructure. It is widely suspected that their orders were to melt into the landscape when the US first attacked, wait until we were entrenched, and then begin guerilla warfare to prevent the US from establishing a non-Ba'athist (or non Saddam) government.

The Nationalists are mostly of Sunni ethnicity, and their primary goal is expulsion of coalition troops from Iraq and the restoration of the Sunni minority in the political process. Although they may descend from time to time into soapbox rhetoric, their aims are for ethnic supremacy of the Sunnis in the political power structure of Iraq. They don't liek other Moslems who are not Sunni (like the Shia), and they don't trust them. They use tactics of insurgency, but they also work through the political process.

The two parties listed above have the lion's share of educated strategists for formulating insurgency as well as financial resources to support themselves. They are political in nature, and their ends are political. They seek political power.

On the low-scale end of insurgency, the Mahdi Army is a polyglot of conservative Islamic beliefs combined with nationalism. Its members are uneducated and impoverished. They are fueled by grievances against the US, but their ultimate ends are political rather than religious.

The most purely religious group(s) are headed up by Sunni Clerics who espouse brotherhood between all Moslems. Unlike the larger Nationalist party, the clerical party openly seeks union with Shia Moslems and espouses a primarily religious revival of Fundamental Islam.

Moslem infiltration from disgruntled Saudis is another factor in the insurgency. These boys are the real thing: Moslem fanatics. But they came from the country that our government has propped up for decades, the despotic government that has resulted from America itself preventing democracy from gaining a foothold in Saudi Arabia.

If we need to rid the world of the death-cult of jihadic Islam, than President Bush need look no further than our "good friends" the Saudis. Freeze their assets; hold up their money, and jihad will be crippled. But there's no way Bush will do it.

The religious exploitation that is going on in this war doesn't entirely come from the Moslems or the Middle East. There are people in this country who will follow anybody who names Jesus Christ and do anything he says, (especially if he is in power, because surely that means God has blessed him) even if he gives no evidence of truly being in Christ, and even if his ideas are sheer madness.

i) Phil never said anything about the Iraq war.

ii) Jeri has a remarkably detailed knowledge of just who the insurgents are in Iraq. Why, if our Marines knew half as much as Jeri does, they would have nabbed the insurgents months ago!

iii) The fact that most Muslims are not terrorists misses the point. Muslims wouldn’t resort to terrorism unless there were a measure of popular support for their activities. If peer pressure frowned upon terrorism, if jihadis were ostracized by the Muslim community, if leading clerics pronounced fatwas against them, it would dry up in short order.

iv) Jeri's allegation that the Iraq war is a distraction from the real war on terrorism is deceptive, for Jeri was also opposed to the war in Afghanistan:

Just recently she posted the following:

“By the way, if the US forces had poured into Afghanistan and arrested Osama bin Laden like justice demanded after 9/11, Al Qaeda could be a thing of the past now and perhaps today's events would never have happened.”


Some of us will remember that this is the position taken by Moveon.org and other radical organizations right after 9/11.

Don't treat this as an act of war. No, march into Afghanistan, serve UBL with an arrest warrant issued by the Kofi Annan, extradite him to the World Court in the Haag, have him Mirandized, lawyered up, swaddled in the Geneva Conventions--the whole nine yards.

v) We still have troops deployed in Afghanistan. This isn’t an either/or. You can fight on more than one front at a time. Indeed, you have to fight on more than one front at a time.

vi) If Brad and Jeri think that we should evangelize the Muslims instead of defeating them on the battlefield, then why don’t Brad and Jeri practice what they preach rather than telling others to do their job for them. Why don’t they buy a plane ticket to Saudi Arabia and start spreading the gospel?

vii) I link Islam to terrorism because Islam makes that linkage. Why is Jeri making excuses for the Muslim world? It is up to the Muslim world to distance itself from holy war and terrorism. Shouldn’t the leading clerics is Egypt and Iraq and Iran and Saudi Arabia be publicly condemning attacks on Jews and Christians and even on fellow Muslims?

Why do you always have folks like Jeri who rush in to speak for Muslims, about Muslims, on behalf of Muslims, and in the place of Muslims when Muslims in the traditional religious and cultural centers of the Muslim world are, at best silent, and, at worst, inciting their followers to violence?

viii) What are the “legitimate grievances” of the suicide bombers? Is it that “the Palestinian Liberation sub-groups are motivated by revenge for having their lands seized.”

This assumes: (a) that there is such a thing as a “Palestinian,” in contradistinction to an Arab (Arafat was Egyptian, most “Palestinians” are Jordanians); (b) that it was “their” land; (c) that their land was “seized.” Jeri seems to be taking her history lessons from Jew-haters.

Again, what, exactly, is the Christian history of “abusing and defrauding” the Muslim world? Jeri’s version of church history is remarkably akin to Bin Laden’s. Maybe she’d like to become one of his wives. This could be her tent-maker ministry!

ix) Doesn’t the Bible speak of “witches” and “unbelievers”?

x) Yes, Americans do have a right to know why we went to war, who we’re fighting against, and what our strategic objective is. And if she could tear herself away from Moveon.org long enough to check out the White House website (www.whitehouse.gov), she would find that all her questions have been repeatedly answered.

I quite agree with her that “any confusion on those points is the result of gross incompetence or gross deception. Confusion on all three points is blatant incompetence or deception.” So when is she going to look in the mirror and take countermeasures to correct her blatant incompetence and gross self-deception?

xi) It’s quite true that the Saudis are a major source of the problem. We don’t crack down on the Saudis for the obvious reason that we’re dependent on Saudi oil. What is Jeri’s practical alternative? Well, what about wind-power? We could certainly put all that hot-air to more productive use.


  1. Crank,

    I don't really know what to make of your emotional rant. If someone disagrees with your view then they fight the forces of *freedom*??? That's interesting.

    Do you consign everyone who disagrees with you as being on the 'left'and siding with the devil?

    Maybe I am misunderstanding but here are a few cures for your bad reasoning:


    Pay particular attention to the articles by Lew Rockwell and Rep. Ron Paul (R TX). Or check out "The Costs of War" by Denson or "Against Leviathan: Government Power and a Free Society" by Higgs.

  2. Crank,

    I must say 'wow'. You really know what I think do you not? Though my handle is Murray Rothbard I am no anarcho capitalist and am in much agreement with Murray and with George Washington, esp on foreign policy. I also tend to agree with Higgs and Denson in the two books previously mentioned.

    You asked what were my 'problems' with your comments. I only mentioned two but they were in the form of questions which you must not have seen.

    Am I correct to assume you are one of the "Nationalist" Review types? One of the Billy O'Reilly/Sean Hannity fascists?


  3. "You really know what I think do you not?"

    by the way, this part was a joke...

  4. With the utmost respect I will attempt to answer your questions directed at me.

    "i) The IRA is an example of domestic terrorism based on issues of nationalism and colonialism, not international terrorism. The IRA isn’t blowing up soft targets around the world."

    "ii)”Foreign” and “international” are not synonymous. In any case, the issue is not some technical definition of what constitutes an international terrorist organization, but the actual threat level which it poses to the free world."

    (Answer to the first two) You are not arguing with me. You are arguing with Colon Powell. http://www.fas.org/irp/news/2001/10/fr100501.html.

    "iii) Why could a war on Islam not be considered a just war? Islam is the aggressor. Our response would be a defensive war or counteroffensive."

    Simple, Islam is not the aggressor. Islam is no more the aggressor than the Lutheran church in WW2.

    "iv) Just-war theory is a product of medieval moral theology. Why does David Kear embrace this part of medieval moral theology, but not the part about the Crusades?"

    Here is a good site to learn some modern ideas of the Just War Concept. http://www.credenda.org/issues/9-2magistralis.php. My opinion is that the Crusades did not meet the criteria in most cases either.

    "v) Is it merely guilt-by-association that leads us to link jihadism with Islam? This is not a Christian characterization of Islam. Rather, that’s part of Islam’s self-definition."

    This is like saying that blowing up abortion clinics is a self description of Christianity. I am a Christian. I am pro-life. I have even gone to jail to protect the unborn. But, I do not blow up clinics. Fairly simple concept.

    "It is not a case of guilt-by-association to judge behavior by its stated belief-system. Would Kear make these same generous allowances for the Nazis?"

    No, but I do make the same allowances for the Lutheran church that hung swastikas from their alters. Under your logic we should have declared war on the Lutheran Church. Or better yet since you can't differentiate between Lutherans and Christianity we should have declared war on Christianity.

    Thanks for the rant space.